On the second day of our weekend in Madrid (20th April 2013), when we opened the curtains to have a glance of Madrid in the morning, we observed that there were no cars being driven along the usual busy Gran Via. Then we noticed that a footage session was taking place on that street.
We dedicated the Sunday to visit the old center of Madrid, wich is known as “El Madrid de los Austrias” (The Madrid of the Austrians). The so-called “Madrid de los Austrias” is the area in which we find the most notorious buildings constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the court of Austria (House of Habsburg) moved to Madrid.
We began our visit at “Plaza de Isabel II” (Isabel II Square), also known as “Plaza de la Ópera”, where “Teatro Real” (Royal Theatre), the major opera house of Madrid, is located.
Then we followed the route suggested by the multi-cache “El Madrid de los Austrias”, which served as our guide on the walking tour on this beautiful area of Madrid. To obtain the final coordinates of this multi-cache we had to visit 17 monuments/places erected during the Habsburg Dynasty.
“Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales” (Monastery of the Royal Barefoot Nuns), which was one of the richest convents in all of Europe before the 20th century, was the starting point of this tour. It was followed by the “Iglesia de San Ginés de Arlés” (Church of St. Ginés of Arlés).
We took a detour to visit “Puerta del Sol” (Gate of the Sun), one of the busiest places in Madrid.
Originally, this square was one of the gates in the city wall that surrounded Madrid. The gate, which faced the east, was adorned with an image of the sun, hence the square’s name.
“Puerta del Sol” is the center of the radial network of Spanish roads, known as Kilometer Zero.
There are several tourist attractions located in there, such as the equestrian statue of King Carlos III, the “Casa de Correos” (Post Office) and the most famous symbol of Madrid, “El Oso y El Madroño” (the Bear and the Strawberry tree).
On our way to “Plaza Mayor” (Major Square), we passed by “Chocolateria San Ginés”, which is famous by its “churros con chocolate”. We thought to go in there in the afternoon, but unfortunately we forgot…
We found ourselves in the central square of Madrid, “Plaza Mayor” (Major Square). Although the origins of this Square go back to 1576, “Plaza Mayor” as we see it today is the result of its reconstruction in 1790, after a series of enormous fires. All buildings that surround Plaza Mayor are worthy to be seen, but there’s one, the “Casa de la Panadería” (Bakery House) that stands out from the other ones. Its facade is decorated with beautiful frescoes, whose design is mainly based on mythological figures.
We found many tourists in there, as well as living statues, people wearing costumes and stamp and coin dealers.
We left “Plaza Mayor” to have a look at the Santa Cruz Palace’s facade, which was originally built to serve as a royal prison and that is now home to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Then we visited the beautiful “Mercado de San Miguel” (Market of San Miguel). Considered a Bien de Interés Cultural, “Mercado de San Miguel” is a kind of a farmers market, tapas bar and wine bar all mixed up. It´s a very busy place, where we find a wide variety of food and drinks and, oppositely to what happens in normal markets, Mercado de San Miguel is open every day, and only closes between midnight and 1am.
We left Plaza Mayor through the “Arco de Cuchilleros” (Cuchilleros Arch), finding a stairs that took us to the “Cava de San Miguel”. A few meters ahead, we saw, at our left, the “Restaurante Sobrino de Botín”, which is claimed to be the world’s oldest operating restaurant.
On Calle de Toledo, we passed by the “Colegiata de San Isidro” (Church of San Isidro el Real), which was Madrid’s cathedral until 1993, when Almudena Cathedral become the official cathedral.
Continuing our walk, we arrived at Plaza del Cascorro where the most popular open air flea market of Madrid, El Rastro, was being held. It was in the middle of the market that we found one of the best hidden geocaches of all the total ones we found during this trip.
The next place we visited is…different…alternative… I can’t find a good word to describe it. “Campo de Cebada” is an open-air surface available for community uses. There’s a wide variety of activities that can be performed in there, such as to play football or basketball, to make graffiti, to enjoy an open-air cinema, a concert or theater, to cultivate plants, to make handicraft items… or just relax.
I enjoyed mostly the small gardens that were in all kind of places that we can and cannot imagine, such as an old washing machine or a chest of drawers.
We focused again our attention in the geocache “El Madrid de los Austrias”. Therefore we passed by the “Capilla de San Isidro en San Andrés”, the “Capilla del Obispo”, the “Iglesia de San Pedro el Viejo” and by the “Iglesia Pontificia de San Miguel”.
After we had been a whole morning walking, we were in need of a good meal. We returned to Plaza Mayor, and we went to a restaurant just outside the square, next to Santa Cruz Palace. It was the best meal I had in Madrid.
With our batteries fully charged, we restarted our tour in Madrid de los Austrias. Well, almost all of us. One of the elements of the group, who was already needing some rest, stayed on Plaza Mayor.
We passed by the “Convento de Las Carboneras”, then we stopped a little bit at “Plaza de la Vila” to enjoy its beauty. “Iglesia de San Nicolás de los Servitas” came next and then we saw the “Palacio del Duque de Uceda ” and the “Iglesia del Sacramento”.
We continued our walk towards Calle Segovia, passing under the “Viaducto Segovia” (Segovia Viaduct). This viaduct, built in 1978, is the third one constructed in this place. It is, since the time of its first construction, in 1874, a notorious suicide point in the Spanish capital.
Not too far from the viaduct, we found the ruins of the “Muralha Arabe” (Muslim Wall), a wall built in the 9th century, during the domination of Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula.
Almudena Cathedral, which occupies the site of Madrid’s first mosque, is the principal church of Madrid. It may be one of the projects that took more time be concluded.
The plans for its construction began in the 16th century, when Madrid became the capital of Spain. However, due to several political issues, its erection was constantly postponed.
Finally, in 1883, the construction of the Cathedral was initiated. The Neo-Romanesque Crypt, which houses a 16th century image of Madrid’s patroness, the Almudena Virgin, was the fisrt part of the Cathedral to be completed. In 1993, 110 years after its inception, Almudena Cathedral was concluded and consecrated by Pope John Paul II.
The “Palacio Real” (Royal Palace), which stands next to Almudena Cathedral, is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, though it is no longer their home. Nowadays, the Palace is used by the Royal Family only for state events such as state ceremonies or official banquets.
The origin of the Palace dates back to the 9th century when the Muslim Kingdom of Toledo built a fortress (Alcázar) that was extended over the centuries, particularly in the 16th century. It was at that time that it was converted into a royal palace. However, in 1734 the Alcázar was destroyed by a fire. By order of King Philip V a new Royal Palace (the actual one) was built to replace the former one. Nowadays the Royal Palace is opened to the public and can be visited every day.
“Plaza de Oriente” (East Square) lies on the East side of the Royal Palace, next to Royal Theater. This park, opened in 1844, houses an imposing statue of King Philip IV. Twenty other statues that depicts different Spanish monarchs were placed on Plaza de Oriente. These statues were originally designed to be placed on top of the Royal Palace, but due to the fear that they could be too heavy for the Palace’s roof, they were left at ground level.
After a long walk in the center of Madrid, we finally obtained the coordinates of the geocache “El Madrid de los Austrias”! The coordinates took us to Sabatini Gardens, located on the north side of the Palace. Named in honor of the Italian architect Francesco Sabatini, who designed the former royal stables that once stood on the site, Sabatini Gardens were opened to the public in 1978 by King Juan Carlos I.
It was time to go back to Plaza Mayor, since one of the group’s member was there waiting for us, and then we returned to Hostal La Prensa to pick up our luggage.
We caught the metro back to Chamartin Train Station, where we caught the Lusitânia Comboio Hotel back to Portugal.
It was the end of a great weekend spent in Madrid.
Although we could get a cheaper trip to Madrid by airplane, doing the trip by train allowed us to enjoy the whole weekend in Madrid, since Saturday morning till Sunday night.